The recent spat between Shivaji Raja, President of Telugu MAA (Movie Artist Association), and its General Secretary Naresh over the alleged misappropriation of funds collected during a US trip has created a rift in the organisation. In a bid to restore the tarnished image of the association, both the actors have claimed that everything is well between them, but public appearances and media reports suggest otherwise.
Also, MAA’s decision to stay away from setting up a fact-finding committee to probe the alleged misappropriation of funds has not gone down well with some of its members and the media too.
In a press meet that was held on Monday morning in the presence of Shivaji, Executive Vice President and actor Srikanth, and MAA Treasurer Paruchuri Venkteswara Rao, the association’s president was quick to shoot down questions that suggested the setting up of a fact-finding committee to inquire into the allegations.
When asked about why MAA leaders had opposed the proposal to set up an enquiry committee into the incident during the earlier meeting, Venkateshwar Rao said that "it would mean that we made a mistake."
"If you didn't make one, why did you oppose setting up the committee?" a reporter shot back.
When Venkateswara Rao insisted that their decision was unanimous, many reporters said that they had heard differently from members of MAA who were present at the meeting itself.
Also, Naresh’s absence during the meeting raised fingers against the on-going spat between him and Shivaji. While those who had gathered claimed that he was busy with a shoot, the reporters were not satisfied with the response.
Executive VP Srikanth told reporters, "I am not involved in finances generally, but I spoke to Naresh for around 45 minutes on Sunday. Since my name has also surfaced, I have to come out and speak. Similarly, since he was the one who read the agreement and signed on the documents, I told him that he also had a responsibility to come to the press meet. I asked for clarification."
Specifically addressing the allegations, Srikanth said, "The debate here is if there is any misappropriation of funds within MAA itself or is everything as per the agreement. Even if one allegation sticks against me, I will give up not only my post, but also my MAA membership. If I'm innocent, will the person who made the allegations do the same? It is an open challenge."
According to a media reports, while most members of MAA have backed Shivaji, around 11 members have pressed for a separate inquiry. However, when asked if there were two groups in the association now, all three strongly denied it.
"We are not afraid, which is why we have come in front of everyone to speak. We also have the full backing of people in the association," the trio claimed.
While many members from MAA have spoken to mediapersons off the record, they have declined to be identified in public.
Media reports suggest that both Srikanth and Shivaji are close to actor Chiranjeevi and are planning to meet the senior actor in order to get him to intervene. But Chiranjeevi, who reportedly knows about this, is allegedly not showing interest.
Chiranjeevi was instrumental in raising funds for MAA by travelling to the US and collecting money from various associations there in order to build a new office for the organisation in Hyderabad and to help artistes in need.
When asked why the event was held in the US, the trio said that they had done the same to raise the profile of the Telugu film industry over there. They also said it was the organiser who was interested to organise the event in the US.
The treasurer also said that MAA's exchequer had Rs 5.6 crore right now, compared to Rs 2.10 crore just a few years ago.
According to Deccan Chronicle, a source also alleged that a few members and the MAA President had formed a separate group to carry out these activities, keeping the General Secretary Naresh out of the loop.
"I swear on my children and Goddess Peddamma Thalli that even 5 paise has not been misused in however long I have held this post. I have donated to causes from my own money, but never even touched the association's money. I haven't even drunk a cup of tea on MAA's money," Shivaji Raja said.
“There is no personal greed involved in the construction of the new building. I am deeply hurt. If the allegations are proved, I will write off all my personal property to the association as compensation. It is my promise," he added.
TNM reached out to Naresh for a comment but the actor remained unavailable to take calls.
In a press meet that was held three days ago, Naresh reportedly said that he and Shivaji have worked out their differences and are planning to hold a grand silver jubilee event as planned.
"We are clear about all issues as of now. We will work hard for MAA. We respect the media's right to question, but we are sincere and hardworking, which is why sometimes there might be some small instances like this," he added, saying that all future events will be held successfully,” Naresh added.